Calculate Before You Consummate – Part 1

This is series of three articles about the proposed reform of Indonesian marriage laws including a proposal for a US$50,000 deposit payable by male expatriates wishing to marry Indonesian Muslim women.

Dr Terry Lacey - The Author

The Indonesian Religious Affairs Ministry is trying to push through reforms based on its interpretations of what sharia law should be, allegedly promoting the protection of women, but is itself a secular civil authority, discredited by corruption and mismanagement of haj funds.

Religious authorities in Indonesia may be hesitant to give up discretionary authority to make final moral decisions based on their theologically more authoritative understanding of Islamic law on different forms of marriage allowed in the Indonesian Muslim tradition, whilst agreeing that abuses of these forms should be stopped.

The Indonesian Constitution guarantees certain human rights on a non discriminatory basis, for citizens as well as residents. But the government seeks to enforce these changes only on Muslims in a country with large non-Muslim minorities, involving discriminatory measures against the Muslim majority, and against expatriates choosing to convert to Islam to marry Indonesian Muslim women.

The first article is an overall summary of the problem in an Op Ed Style. The second two are in a feature page or weekend style and can be used to together, and have already been published in the Jakarta Post, to which attribution should be given.

Part 1:


What is President Barack Obama who arrives in Jakarta on 24th March to make of a proposed discriminatory Indonesian law that will penalize US male citizens seeking to convert to Islam and marry Indonesian Muslim women, by insisting they should pay a deposit of $50,000 US dollars to be held by the Indonesian government for ten years. If the law is passed this will apply to all expatriates but not to Indonesian men.

Indonesian actress and singer Feby Febiola lashed out recently at a bill to be debated by the Indonesian House of Representatives requiring foreign men pay a US$50,000 deposit to wed an Indonesian woman. (The Jakarta Post 19.02.10).

Writing in The Jakarta Post Mohammad Ali said “I smell dirty business”, Robert Stallman said “The proposed law is a violation of both Islamic principles and human rights” and Naibahoin Bali said “Not only corruption and fanatics but now the government wants to sell their people for money”. Whilst Selvi Tisnawati concludes that the law would make the government a mucikari, the state would become a pimp procuring Indonesian women at a price for foreigners. (The Post 02.03.10)

One reader signed “Danish Jakarta” says “Demanding $50,000 for a marriage simply means killing love in this world. Why is the Indonesian government being so cruel?

Lynna Van Der Zee-Oehmke said “Our soulmate or jodoh is decided and given to us by Allah and not by the government” concluding “Which ignorant man came up with this preposterous idea to sell Indonesian women to foreigners for 500 million Rupiah?” (The Post 03.03.10).

So clearly free trade with India, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, South Korea and Japan, and increased trade and investment with the US and EU should not mean that their men can just nip over to Jakarta and make free with Indonesian women by claiming to have fallen in love with them. There is too much of this about.

Lets face it, as the Indonesian politicians proposing this measure imply, marriage is a business proposition, and this is all about hard calculations. So calculate before you consummate.

The mathematical equation behind the formal institutionalization of love (or the obsessive pursuit of a woman into Holy Matrimony) is that X times Y equals the desirability of getting hitched or not, where X equals to the square root of the sum of his money plus her money, minus the sum of his complications minus her complications, where Y is the sum of the actuarial prospects of the woman expressed as a percentage of the actuarial prospects of the man.

On this basis the older and better off he is the better, but the formulae is biased to my own circumstances, except that I don’t have the money yet.

Where the result is less than zero it is best not to do it. Where the result is between 0 and 1 then the woman has the advantage, taking into account a pre-nuptial agreement, the prevailing regulatory framework, and whether or not the bride-to-be is pregnant (which automatically means that you add a positive 0.5 to the final result).

However if you have to add minus $50,000 then the calculation would almost never end up positive, leaving any poor baby pending on the sidelines potentially without matrimonial legitimation. The deposit would lead to fewer marriages inside Indonesia and more outside.

Or couples would simply live together and the proposal would undermine the institution of marriage itself and force people who wanted to have a religious marriage to live in sin if they wanted to stay in Indonesia .

Will this prove to be about the politics of under development or the under development of politics? In a tug of war between religious authorities, Muslim modernizers and conservatives and the Religious Affairs Ministry, the classic expatriate marriage is neither about sex-industry contract prostitution, nor about justifying perversions of Islamic polygamy.

Its a pity if the well-meaning expat, undertaking conversion to Islam and in conformity with all the rules, should become the victim of efforts to eliminate distorted perversions and misuse of good Muslim intentions, because the civil law would not be able to differentiate the one from the other.

Optimizing the protection of women is one thing, and right and proper, and the 1974 Marriage Act could be strengthened to do this. But it may not be best for the state to arbitrarily remove from Muslim clerics, scholars and religious authorities the discretion to determine when a potentially compassionate sharia law is misused by bad people, and then replace it by a bad civil law enforced upon good people.

Unless this is a smoke screen for a campaign against foreigners?

Anyway the state cannot dictate the authoritative interpretation of religious laws to Muslims and the Religious Affairs Ministry should know that because it is not a perfect religious authority, but an imperfect civil one.

(Dr. Terry Lacey is  a contributing editor for Indonesia Media  and he is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking).(to be continued)

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